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Experts Warn Against Thanksgiving Travel as Coronavirus Cases Continue To Break Records

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  • More than 153,400 COVID-19 cases were reported in the U.S. Thursday, marking the country’s third straight day of record single-day spikes.
  • Hospitalizations are also at an all-time high in the U.S., and health experts warn that holiday travel plans and gathering will cause the pandemic to worsen since it opens people up to more unnecessary opportunities to contract and spread the virus.
  • Cities like New York and Chicago have tightened restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving, and others will likely do the same in the coming days.

Coronavirus Cases Continue To Spike

With Thanksgiving just two weeks away, experts are warning against holiday travel as COVID-19 cases reach record-shattering levels.

On Thursday, the country hit more than 153,400 cases in a single day. That marks the third straight day of record one-day spikes, and according to estimates, more than 67,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 across the country. That’s more than at any other point during the pandemic.

With these numbers, the U.S. has now surpassed 10.6 million coronavirus cases and 242,000 deaths as of Friday morning. Now, the average of both cases and hospitalizations is on the rise in nearly every state.

According to CNBC, average daily cases are only steady or falling in Louisiana, Montana, and Georgia, but it actually says that’s likely due to reporting errors in Louisiana and Georgia.

The bottom line is, the coronavirus is still very bad right now in most of the country, and experts are worried that things are only going to get worse in the coming weeks, especially as the weather gets colder and as more families plan to gather for the holidays.

Experts Warning Against Thanksgiving Gatherings

Dr. Celine Gounder, member of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force, warned against holiday travel plans.

“Right now we have a fire blazing, and to me traveling and spending time with people over the holidays is sort of like pouring gasoline on a fire,” she told CNBC.

“It’s just not a good idea in the middle of a pandemic, especially at this juncture.”

Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said last month that he won’t be having his kids come home for Thanksgiving.

“I would love to have it with my children, but my children are in three separate states throughout the country and in order for them to get here, they would all have to go to an airport, get on a plane and travel with public transportation,” he said at the time, stressing how traveling opens up more potential for contracting and spreading the virus.

He even told The New York Times this month that people often feel a false sense of safety when around trusted people like friends and family.

“They don’t realize they’ve come in from multiple cities, spent time in airports,” he said.

“They come to a house where Grandma and Grandpa are, or someone with an underlying condition, and they innocently and inadvertently bring infection into a home. It’s dangerous. You’ve got to be careful.”

Local Governments Take Action

With this in mind, many local officials warning their communities to be safe this holiday season.

In New York for example, where cases have risen 61% over the past week, Mayor Bill de Blasio has urged all residents to not travel out of the state for the holidays because the city is trying to fight off a second wave. 

Starting Friday, he even imposed a 10:00 p.m. curfew for indoor services like bars, restaurants, and gyms. He’s considering shutting down schools Monday, and already put a 10 person cap on gatherings within private homes, which of course is going to put a wrench in people’s Thanksgiving plans. 

In fact, Republicans there are already vowing to break the cap on gatherings. Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican who is the minority whip of the NYC city council, tweeted about doing so last week.

“I’ll be having more than 10 ppl at my house on Thanksgiving. My address is public record. Some family will come from (gasp!) New Jersey,” he wrote.

Kids will see their grandparents, cousins will play in the yard, sis in law will bring strawberry rhubarb pie, & a turkey will be overcooked.”

His response drew in its own backlash, but this isn’t the only city tightening restrictions.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked people to stay home for Thanksgiving as well, as the city tries to tackle its rising cases.

“This is serious life and death,” she said at a press conference.

“We are sounding the alarm that we are at this inflection point where we have to do more than we’ve already done.”

She went a step further, issuing a 30-day stay at home advisory, which calls for residents to stay home unless for essential reasons, stop inviting guests over, avoid unnecessary travel, and cancel traditional Thanksgiving plans.

These are just some examples, so don’t be surprised if more cities and states begin announcing safety measures ahead of the holidays, especially as cases continue to rise.

Even the CDC has been warning about the risks of gathering with people you don’t live with for Thanksgiving this year, and instead recommended connecting with loved ones virtually.

Realistically, however, the CDC knows people will gather anyway.

Because of that, it did release recommendations that could make those situations safer, which includes wearings masks, staying 6 feet apart, and washing hands, but also tips like bringing your own utensils or going for single-use options, and eating outdoors, among other things.

Still, the CDC says, “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.”

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (NBC News) (CNN)

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Miami Man Gets 6 Years in Prison After Using COVID Relief Funds To Buy Lamborghini

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  • A Florida man was sentenced to more than six years in prison after fraudulently obtaining $3.9 million in COVID-19 relief funds and using that money for personal purchases.
  • Authorities said David Tyler Hines falsified federal applications to secure loans from the Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
  • After receiving the funds, Hines began blowing it on jewelry, resort stays, dating websites, and even a $318,000 Lamborghini Huracan.

Hines Defrauds Government

A man in Miami, Florida, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison this week for fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds and using that money for personal expenses.

David Tyler Hines, 29, is accused of falsifying federal applications to secure $3.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.

The Justice Department claims he actually requested $13.5 million in paycheck protection loans for various companies using false and fraudulent IRS forms last year. At the time, he stated the money would ensure his employees would continue to get paid throughout the state-mandated lockdowns.

According to a federal complaint, however, those employees either never existed or earned only a fraction of what he claimed to pay them.

“Collectively, Hines falsely claimed his companies paid millions of dollars in payroll the first quarter of 2020. State and bank records, however, show little to no payroll expense during this period,” the complaint adds.

Hines Makes Luxury Purchases With Funds

Authorities said that within days of securing the nearly $4 million from the federal government, Hines began blowing it on extravagant personal purchases, including jewelry, resort stays, and a $318,000 2020 Lamborghini Huracan. Two payments totaling $30,000 were also documented as going to “mom,” according to the criminal complaint, while some money also went to dating websites.

Investigators became aware of the scam after the Lamborgini was involved in a hit-and-run incident back in July. The vehicle was ultimately linked back to Hines, which kick-started the investigation.

In February, Hines pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the scheme. As part of the sentencing, he was ordered to forfeit the $3.4 million, as well as the Lamborghini

See what others are saying: (Orlando Sentinel) (Complex) (HuffPost)

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Trial for 3 Ex-Officers Charged in George Floyd Murder Pushed To March

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  • A Minnesota judge ruled Thursday that the August trial for three officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd will be postponed until March 2022 so a recently filed federal case can proceed first.
  • Ex-officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were indicted on federal civil rights charges shortly after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter by a state jury last month.
  • In Thursday’s announcement, the judge also argued the postponement was necessary to create “some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer” regarding Chavuin’s case and upcoming sentencing.
  • No date has been scheduled for the federal trial yet, and experts have said it is unclear if it will happen before March 7, the new date set for the state case.

Judge Cahill Postpones Trial

The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged for their involvement in the murder of George Floyd will be pushed from August to March 2022, a judge ruled Thursday.

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were previously facing state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder, but last week, they were indicted on additional federal civil rights charges.

The federal indictment charges Kueng and Thao with willfully failing to intervene in unreasonable use of force deployed by their fellow former colleague Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter last month for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.

All four ex-officers face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.

In his decision, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he moved the Minnesota trial so the federal case could proceed first. Notably, Cahill also cited his desire to create more distance between the state trial and the widely publicized legal proceedings against Chauvin.

“What this trial needs is some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer,” he said in court on Thursday.

A date for the federal trial has not yet been scheduled, it is uncertain if it would happen before March 7, the new date set by Cahill for the state trial.

The decision to file the civil rights charges against Lane, Kueng, and Thao came as surprise to many legal experts as federal indictments are not usually brought until after state cases are concluded.

The move is also unusual because Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in Minnesota. By contrast, the federal government normally only files charges in cases where they believe justice was not served at the state level.

For example, the four officers who were accused of beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 were only indicted on federal charges after they were acquitted in California.

Uncertainty Around Sentencing

Defense attorneys for Kueng, Lane, and Thao agreed with the judge’s decision, but state prosecutors did not support the delay, a fact that experts said could mean the three former officers are seeking a plea deal.

“One can infer that the defense attorneys are hoping that the federal case will offer lower penalties for their clients and a dismissal of the state charges,” Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor told the Associated Press.

Under Minnesota law, aiding and abetting is treated the same as the underlying crime. If the ex-officers are convicted, the state’s sentencing guidelines for people without previous criminal histories would recommend prison sentences of 12 and a half years for the murder counts and four years for the manslaughter counts.

Cahill, however, has the flexibility to increase the sentences if he finds aggravating factors, as he did with Chauvin in a ruling Wednesday.

In the decision, Cahill agreed with prosecutors that Chauvin abused his power, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.

Experts say the judge is likely to give Chauvin a 30-year sentence for the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum of 40 years.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated

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  • Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program. 
  • Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
  • Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery

Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.

DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.

The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.

Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.

DeWine Defends Lottery

Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”

DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally. 

Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April. 

See what others are saying: (AP News) (NPR)(The New York Times)

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